The reception of passengers makes it difficult to formulate a credible historical imagery. We are still 100 meters away and you can already hear the tango chords played by the musicians at the entrance.
And, arriving at the parking lot, we glimpsed the small orchestra dressed in black and melancholy, arranged against a wooden wall.
Two violinists sharpen the melodies and struggle to follow the rhythm set by a South American Indian-looking double bass player, as two visibly unhappy concertina players do.
Passengers Entrance into the End of the World Season
Despite being given this way, in the faithful psycho-depressive fashion of Argentina, the welcome encourages visitors to Ushuaia, even if only because they are in the southernmost city in the world, and find themselves a mere 1000 km from Antarctica, they already have reason to celebrate.
As if that wasn't enough, they are getting ready to board one of the most emblematic trains on the face of the Earth to cross an unforgettable southern scene.
Stuart, the Canadian stationmaster, broadcasts announcements in Spanish and English over the station's blaring loudspeakers. After a few, the team of “hosts” makes sure that no one is missing and the whistle signaling the match is given.
Camila's Historic Locomotion
At the controls of a veteran machinist who is seasonally emigrated from Wales, Camila, the star locomotive of the Ferrocarril Austral Fuegino fleet, releases a dark cloud of smoke onto the roof of the building and another, white, of steam that envelops its base.
With effort, the old machine conquers the opening meters of the route. Meanwhile, in the VIP carriages, the first flutes of champagne are served and the corresponding toasts are made. Like the orchestra, the euphoria on board tarnishes the past.
The Times of Prisoner Exile at the End of the World
The short trip from the prison to the Antarctic beech groves that they had to cut down was one of the rare moments of relative freedom and communion of prisoners with the nature around them.
But the summer and good weather now enjoyed by visitors last little more than three months in Ushuaia and in Tierra del Fuego.
Many of their forays into the forest took place under unpleasant, sometimes extreme conditions, which they cursed with all the insulting vocabulary they knew, as did the axes and the endless logs that butchered their hands and backs.
Together, that train and its round trip, plus the cell and the exile in the back of South America constituted their punishment. And there was no point in escaping, because escapes to nowhere are doomed to failure.
The Precarious Origin of the Doomsday Prison in Ushuaia
At the end of the 1884th century, Argentina installed a penal colony in Ushuaia and the first customers arrived around XNUMX. Firewood was needed to heat them and wood to erect the buildings that would house those on their way.
The authorities thus embarked on a curious rail adventure where oxen pulled small wagons on wooden rails. Seven years later, the infrastructure still seemed too rudimentary to the governor and he ordered its replacement by Decauville rails with a gauge of 500 mm.
Soon, a non-animal locomotive would tow carriages and hundreds of convicts along the coast, in front of the houses in Ushuaia, which was then being developed.
Before long, locals began to treat the strange composition as El Tren de Los Presos. At the time, although few knew it, the role of those passengers was twofold. In the image of your offenses.
Exiles with the end of a colonization by force
Tierra del Fuego remained unexplored, at the mercy of the territorial claims of the new Argentine and Chilean rival nations. Aware of the urgency, President Júlio Argentino Roca decided to kill two birds with one stone. It was inspired by the example of Port Arthur, in Tasmania, and exiled, there, repeated political or felony prisoners.
At the same time that it was free of the inconvenience, it kept those distant inhabited places, consolidating the legitimacy of the Argentine possession.
The rails were lengthening in search of new forest to cut. In that time, more and more criminals had their last stop in Ushuaia. Many died there, others, rare, served their sentences and returned to their origins. Two, even more unique, escaped for a few weeks before being recaptured.
In 1947, the prison was decommissioned and replaced by a naval base. Two years later, the strong earthquake in Tierra del Fuego destroyed a large part of the railway.
From the Cruel Reality to the Extras that Entertain Tourists
Pipo uses the name of the river that, at intervals, runs along the rails. He was hired to retrieve the prisoner's character and plays his role in a blue and yellow striped prison uniform. He maintains a crestfallen posture of slight humiliation that doesn't deter tourists from eager to do their job.
On the way, they photographed the Fueginian landscape including Valle del Pico and the Macarena waterfall. Afterwards, they recorded with renewed enthusiasm the preserved scene of the thousands of stumps cut by the condemned.
Only the prisoners are missing and, in their absence, Pipo has to serve.
At the exit of the El Parque terminal station, dozens of small gleaming chambers frame it. And the extra accepts his punishment that, since the famous "casserole” from 2001, that Argentine pesos cost even more to win. “You know friends, there are days when I feel like the real prisoners. I have no possible escape.” He laments us, in a humorous tone, after ten minutes of conversation.
Do railroad to the vastness of Tierra del Fuego
It has nothing to do with car parking, the final landing of the railway. For passengers' delight and convenience, the entrance to Tierra del Fuego National Park and the last death throes of the Andes Mountains, with its distant mountains, always snowy, are just a short distance away.
Demanding explorers cross it who, among the relief, discover deep lakes, flooded shores claimed by communities of beavers and jagged and dramatic coastlines such as that of the Lapataia Bay. Onward, the long Beagle Channel.
Many coordinate the return of these southern wanderings with the train schedule. They return to Ushuaia a few days later, tired but rewarded, aboard the Tren del Fin del Mundo.
Still willing to venture to the opposite end of the region to visit the Harberton resort, Tierra del Fuego's lonely and pioneer farm.